5 Red Flags When Selecting an Acting Class

Choosing to engage in a relationship with an acting class/coach is like dating. You’re entering into a potentially long-term relationship that must be mutually beneficial, healthy, and free of mental and emotional abuse. The No. 1 factor when considering joining is the results of the work: launched careers, booked roles, awards, nominations, etc.

The following are basic assessments I encourage all actors to employ when selecting an acting class. 

Red Flag #1: Classes are jam-packed.
In addition to the teacher not knowing your name, you will be lost in a sea of students, forced to work with a scene partner, and may only get up to work once every four weeks...if you’re lucky! I describe my classes as “private coaching in a class setting.” Because our classes are small, our actors get up and work every single week on a new major film, TV, or theater piece until they have an undeniable acting breakthrough and transformation, or else they don’t sit down.

Red Flag #2: You’re forced to work with a scene partner.
When actors are required to partner up, it means the teachers can pack the class like sardines. What sucks about this imposed dynamic is the inevitability that your partner doesn’t take it seriously, flakes on rehearsal, or a host of other horror stories so many actors have to tell. Why should you be shit out of luck just because your partner wasn’t prepared?

Red Flag #3: Teachers who hate actors.
Unfortunately, I see many actors who arrive at my studio very damaged. They have been completely flattened by an abusive teacher/studio. At times I feel like I’m scooping them off the ground with a spatula and rehabilitating them.

How to spot abuse: teachers who bully or condescend to the students; teachers who allow students to directly critique others actors (all comments from students should be directed to the teacher only, as actors should never critique their fellow actors, both on-set and off).

This is a no-win situation for you as an actor. The biggest problem with these types of teachers is that there are ulterior motives at stake, which poison the well. Thus, all craft development gets cast aside and the entire class experience revolves around pleasing the teacher. This is a major red flag. Being a part of any acting class where the primary goal is to please the teacher is like signing up for stunted development. Some teachers truly love teaching and can’t help but inspire their students with their own energy and passion. Not every acting coach feels that way and this is an appraisal you need to make before you sign on board. 

Teachers and coaches should be pushing their students forward with respect and helping them succeed along their career path. 

Red Flag #4: No results in sight.
All the truly great directors, producers, writers, and casting directors I’ve worked with believe this: We’re all in the same boat! Never walk into a class situation with your tail tucked between your legs. Don’t be afraid to ask for results. It’s your right and responsibility.

The teacher must be able to handle being put on the spot with grace. Raise your hand and inquire what sort of booking his/her students have acquired of late, or in the last year. Any reputable teacher should be able to handle this question with aplomb and with hard numbers. Acting class is about creating tangible results. Defensive or vague answers should give you a glimpse into this person’s soul. No reputable teacher should feel good about taking hard-earned money from actors unless he/she knew they were getting the best artillery they need to fight forward in their careers. 

Red Flag #5: Your work doesn’t transcend the acting class.
Are you advancing your craft every week?Your teacher should be able to guide you to a breakthrough on a new piece of material every class, before you walk out the door. 

Are you working on stale/dead material that was handed to you? You should be working on something current and fun every class—something you actually need to work on outside of the classroom: an upcoming or currently casting audition, booked role, past audition, etc. 

If the work you do in class is only meant for the bubble of the acting class, and isn’t directly related to your career outside of class, then give yourself permission to politely walk away.

Our students experience an undeniable acting breakthrough and transformation every class.With eight clients landing series lead roles this year as a direct result of our work together, we believe classes and results must go hand in hand. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

What Should Actors Ask for at Christmas?

One thing all actors should ask for this holiday season is a subscription to an online streaming service (Netflix, Amazon, etc.).

This is a golden age of television! Far too many actors who say they’re serious about wanting to launch a career in this industry, do not watch television, and they’re missing a major opportunity to familiarize and immerse themselves in the business they claim they want to be a part of. It’s like saying you want to be a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, yet you’ve never listened to Bach’s Cello Suites. (Yo Yo Ma’s version is simply sublime.) Being intimately familiar with what’s on TV (and in the theaters) is imperative to scouting out the directors, writers, and producers you want to work with and build relationships with.

And while you’re at it, I would advise every actor to do something kind for yourself. Many people eat, breathe, and sleep acting. Put it down for a second and get a massage. Take care of yourself and relax!

This article was originally posted on Backstage

A Must-Read Book for Actors

David Mamet’s “True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor” is essential reading for any actor navigating the jungle of acting training.

Mamet’s book is indispensable, as it exposes the dirty underbelly of this industry by calling nonsense “techniques” out for being undoable, running actors through hoops, stealing their money, and offering little in the way of practicable, or actionable advice.

Mamet exposes the fact that character is an illusion created by the personality of the actor and the circumstances within the writing. For him, “There is no character. There are just lines on the page.” This concept is at the core of my work with actors—I help them to use their singular personalities to book the role and reach their Oscar potential on set. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage

A Must-Watch TV Performance

I would highly encourage aspiring actors to watch the work of Mark Duplass. Duplass is the creator and star of the HBO series “Togetherness”—a show that looks at human relationships, expectations, dreams, and realities with honesty and humor. Duplass, along with a cast of capable supporting actors, navigate the challenges and general b.s. of life, families, and relationships with a truly nuanced wit and candor.

Duplass is also an important figure to follow because he condones a very proactive and realistic method of achieving industry success. Using his career as an example, Duplass empowers young creatives to produce projects—with almost non-existent budgets—that have the power to ignite their careers. Actors see more results when they generate projects themselves, rather than waiting for work to fall into their laps. If you can’t write, find a friend who can. In my work with actors, I help them to book more roles and launch their careers—on their own terms! Duplass is a testament to the powers of teamwork and self-created momentum.

This article was originally posted on Backstage

An Inspiring Performance All Aspiring Actors Must See

One performance that every aspiring actor should see is Dustin Hoffman’s role in “The Graduate.” While it’s a superb performance, there are three distinct reasons that it is a must-watch for actors. The first reason is that Hoffman was cast in spite of his appearance. As the story goes, the powers behind that film were looking for a tall, basketball playing, ivy league-esque leading man. Thus, actors, don’t shun an audition if you feel like you don't look the way the part is envisioned. The second reason is that Hoffman shows real innovation in the craft: As legend has it, Hoffman saw the director chuckling off-camera after some clunky move he made with Anne Bancroft onscreen. Determined not to break character, Hoffman starts banging his head against the wall—a move which made it into the finished film. Now that's determination and creativity. Finally, Hoffman shows us how pursuing the simplest attitude—“I’m going to get this girl back,”—can be truly riveting and dynamic as he approaches it through a variety of angles: desperation, comedy, lunacy, and courage. No special effects needed. With the highest percentage of booked roles in the industry, I help actors make the brave and surprising choices that win them the role and help them reach their Oscar potential on set.
This articla was originally posted on Backstage

4 Tips For A Winning Reel

Don’t use the notion of “I’m working on my reel” as a means of delaying your career. It’s common for people in the business to hear actors seek refuge for making poor career choices in the name of “working on their reel.” It’s common to hear actors take this or that shitty no-paying project, or student film, etc. so they have “something for their reel.” This kind of reel can close more doors than it opens. A reel filled with derivative work, badly shot, with poor production values can do more harm than good: It can actually shut you out of contention by showing a director, writer, producer, or casting director what they didn’t need or want to see.

1. Think about the future of reels. With the game-changing swell of new media, the traditional acting reel is quickly becoming obsolete. Due to the extraordinary success of her YouTube channel—featuring original content and characters—one of my inspiring rising star clients recently grabbed the attention of the industry. She was offered a holding contract with a major TV network and top tier A-list representation. Her YouTube channel unwittingly became one of the most effective reels I’ve ever seen. She’s self-taught, learning everything piecemeal through peers, online videos, and tutorials. Rather than waiting for permission, she created her own success. She produces three videos per week. 

A supremely talented actor-screenwriter student in my master class has a collection of individual scenes rather than a stitched together reel showcasing every genre. It’s modular, so he can send the combination he feels best for any given project.

2. Put your best footage first. A good reel should be no longer than one-and-a-half minutes and start immediately; no 10-second holds on your name against a blank screen—that just bores casting to tears and makes them impatient. Open with a clip of your best acting right away. Have your name as text at the bottom for the first few seconds and then allow it to disappear as the reel continues. 

Actors are often told to put their best credits/footage first on their reel, but for many actors this is just a series of co-star footage with actors reciting one-liners as they play bartenders, dog-walkers, and other co-star roles. That’s fine, but if an indie director is watching your reel, they need to watch further and deeper into the reel to see actual footage of you acting. That’s why it’s important to take on meatier indie projects that really push you as an actor, as those are the parts that give you reel footage that can actually showcase your abilities. You playing a waitress on “Grey’s Anatomy” and saying, “One moment please,” does little to impress anyone in the indie world. 

3. Create your own footage. Beware of companies that create mock reels. A professional can smell these a mile away; they can tell this is not the real deal. Rather, as I always encourage, use your personality and your original voice to write and shoot something yourself. Work with friends. Collaborate and pool your funds to hire a good cinematographer and sound person. You could spend a day shooting three scenes that would be beneficial to you and two-to-three other actors and you’d be able to split the costs. The major benefit of this is that you take control of the content that you create, rather than being beholden to the derivative whims of all the film school graduates and low-level indie directors out there. This gives you the opportunity to play the serial killer, the Wall Street d-bag, the jilted prom queen, or whatever character in your wheelhouse of which you don’t already have footage.

4. Avoid recreating scenes. Don’t do any recognizable scenes from established films in the name of having something on your reel just to have it. I cringe when I see actors doing their own versions of “Good Will Hunting” or “When Harry Met Sally.” Don’t add footage of you recording your performance in an acting class, even if you nailed the scene. It looks amateurish and makes you appear as though you haven’t booked any legitimate jobs. 

Plus, this will allow you to plan the task of developing and finishing your reel so that it really is reflective of your abilities and you can stop taking on crap projects in the name of working on your reel. Being involved with such projects only enables you in stalling your career when you should be pushing it forward. 

The bottom line is that while your résumé may not yet have the caliber of work that you’re capable of, there’s no reason your reel has to be as narrow.

This article was originally posted on Backstage